Honouring Cuban Dissident Armando Valladares on the Day of Fidel’s End

armando-valladares
Armando Valladares

Another old communist devil, comrade Fidel, died today. Cuba, and the world, will be better off without him.

(By the way, I am still waiting, and hoping, that another old devil, comrade Mugabe, will also finally appear before the judgement throne of God, for his many crimes. The sooner, the better, for the sake of the embattled and hungry the people of Zimbabwe, and the good of the world as a whole.)

But today I refuse to talk about old devils. I prefer to rather share with you a few words in honour of one who dared to stand, at a high cost, against the devilish communist ideology in Cuba, the Catholic poet, diplomat, human rights activist, and public intellectual, Armando Valladares.

I remember of praying for him in the early nineteen eighties, after reading about his harsh imprisonment in Sergiu Grossu’s monthly magazine Catacombes, which the Romanian author edited in Paris, France.

Here are a few details about his life and work (source, HERE).

As you read about him, I invite you to say a prayer for freedom and dignity in Cuba.

May the Lord hear our prayers!

* * *

Armando Valladares Perez (born May 30, 1937) is a Cuban poet, diplomat, and human rights activist. In 1960, he was arrested by the Cuban government for protesting communism,[1] leading Amnesty International to name him a prisoner of conscience. Following his release in 1982, he wrote a book detailing his imprisonment and torture at the hands of the Cuban government [Against All Hope: The Prison Memoirs of Armando Valladares], and was appointed by U.S. President Ronald Reagan to serve as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

Imprisonment

Valladares is from Pinar del Rio, Cuba. Initially a supporter of Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution, he later became an employee of the Office of the Ministry of Communications for the Revolutionary Government, working at a post office.

In 1960, at the age of 23, he refused to put an “I’m with Fidel” sign on his desk at work. Shortly after, he was arrested by political police at his parents’ home. He was subsequently given a thirty-year prison sentence. The Cuban government stated that his arrest was on charges of terrorism, and that he had previously worked for the secret police of prisoner of conscience.

Valladares states that he was offered “political rehabilitation” early in his prison term, but refused. According to Valladares, this led to his being abused and tortured by his guards, including being forced to eat other people’s excrement and imprisonment in cramped “drawer cells” in which multiple prisoners were confined in a space too small to lie down, without being allowed toilet access.

Describing his incarceration later, Valladares wrote:

“For me, it meant 8,000 days of hunger, of systematic beatings, of hard labor, of solitary confinement and solitude, 8,000 days of struggling to prove that I was a human being, 8,000 days of proving that my spirit could triumph over exhaustion and pain, 8,000 days of testing my religious convictions, my faith, of fighting the hate my atheist jailers were trying to instill in me with each bayonet thrust, fighting so that hate would not flourish in my heart, 8,000 days of struggling so that I would not become like them.”

Describing his thoughts on Che Guevara later, Valladares stated:

“He was a man full of hatred … Che Guevara executed dozens and dozens of people who never once stood trial and were never declared guilty … In his own words, he said the following: “At the smallest of doubt we must execute.” And that’s what he did at the Sierra Maestra and the prison of Las Cabanas.”

During his time in prison, Valladares went on multiple hunger strikes. The longest, a 49-day hunger strike in 1974, left him confined to a wheelchair for several years with an attack of polyneuritis. Valladares subsequently appealed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States, stating that he was being denied important medical care, including a functioning wheelchair. The IACHR found that Cuba had violated a number of Valladares’s rights, including the right to a fair trial, the right to protection against arbitrary arrest and the right to humane treatment during the time the individual is in custody, and the right to due process and protection from cruel, infamous, or unusual punishment.

Believing that “poetry is a weapon,” Valladares also began smuggling his poems out of jail, which brought him a measure of international attention. His first published collection, From My Wheelchair, detailed prison abuses and was released in 1974. After the book’s publication, PEN France awarded him its Freedom Prize.

armando-marta-valladares
Armando & Marta Valladares

In 1981, Valladares’s wife Marta – who had met and married him while he was imprisoned – traveled to Europe to meet with government officials regarding her husband’s case, and in 1982, 83 U.S. Congressmen joined a call for Valladares’s release. Valladares was released that year after 22 years’ imprisonment after a direct appeal by French President François Mitterrand.

The Cuban government has made unconfirmed, unsubstantiated claims that Valladares was a CIA agent prior to his arrest and after his release from prison.

After his release, Valladares resettled in the U.S. In 1986, Alfred A. Knopf released Valladares’s memoir Against All Hope, in which he detailed his prison experiences. One year later, U.S. President Ronald Reagan appointed Valladares to serve as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The move was widely seen as an attempt to dramatize and draw new attention to Cuban human rights abuses. The Cuban government reacted by calling Valladares a “traitor and a fake,” including stating that he had faked his paralysis while imprisoned. The U.S. State Department responded by accusing Cuba of “mounting a massive defamation campaign against Armando Valladares” to deflect attention from its human rights record.

Valladares served as the ambassador from 1988 to 1990. He vigorously argued for UN attention to Cuban human rights abuses during his tenure, leading Human Rights Watch to criticize him for appearing to have “little interest in pursuing other violators, particularly of the non-Communist sort,” such as US allies Iraq or Guatemala.

Valladares is a member of the international advisory council of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.

 

 

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